• Viewpoint

Ultra-low emission zones – do they improve quality of life for our citizens?

On the 8 April, London introduces its ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ), an initiative to help improve air quality. Several UK cities are set to follow suit, deterring the most polluting vehicles from entering our city centres. These schemes are popular, with support from central and local government, but do they ultimately benefit us? We asked a group of Arcadians what their views were on tackling air quality in cities and improving the environment for citizens.

Kerri Moore

Corporate Communications +44 (0)207 812 2258 Ask me a question
Ultra low emission zones


Stephen Pyatt, Associate Technical Director, Air Quality, said:

“There is an urgent need to improve air quality in our cities, not just to ensure we meet legislative requirements but so people are not exposed to poor air that is detrimental to health.

“The UK Government has mandated a number of local authorities to look at clean air zones similar to the London ULEZ. The zones rely on improvements in vehicle emissions being delivered by the progressive Euro Standards, however the past performance of vehicles has meant that the reduction in emissions has been less than would be expected under real world conditions. Whilst the evidence of the latest vehicle Euro standard (Euro 6) promises lower emissions than its predecessor, particularly for diesel vehicles, there are wide differences between vehicles.

“To make a real impact, regulators need to ensure that there is an accelerated shift to cleaner vehicles. Currently they tend to focus on a small part of the fleet in a small area of the city, avoiding the unpopular decision of including private cars and allowing time before implementation. Whilst low emission zones are a step in the right direction for improving air quality, until there is a wholesale change away from diesel vehicles to alternative fuels such as electric, there is unlikely to be the significant improvements in local air quality needed.”


Nick Kealey, Local Government Lead in the North, said:

“Leeds has introduced several forward-thinking initiatives to tackle the causes of poor air quality, and these will bring not only health benefits but support major growth plans for the city. Reducing reliance on private vehicles and improving public transport has been central to the proposals, such as the expansion of the Park and Ride facilities across the city. Major new plans for Leeds Station and South Bank will improve rail connectivity and the passenger experience, as will downgrading a number of existing major highways routes to reduce traffic flow through the city centre.

“Behavioral initiatives such as ‘Clean Air Leeds’, alongside investment in improved cycle and pedestrian routes are seeking to encourage greater sustainable transport use. Whilst a Clean Air Charging Zone - to be introduced in 2020 - may be considered unpopular by some, when set alongside other proactive measures, the overall impact on the city, its residents and businesses will undoubtedly be positive.”


Colin Black, Head of UK Transport Planning, said:

“It is positive that London is taking action, as it has struggled to respond effectively to legislative requirements for nearly two decades. The ULEZ scheme requires a significant amount of signage and enforcement, and the approach is driven largely by political acceptability. It also does little to address the emissions that create air quality issues away from source, such as in those communities located in proximity of the M25.”

“London needs a coherent approach to tackle poor air quality and has yet to adopt the bolder and more innovative policies found in other global cities.  A Smart City needs to embrace Smart Planning. We now have access to an unpredicted quantity and quality of data. Key to improving future air quality is to embrace the potential to use the data available to better understand travel behaviour and, in doing so, our ability to improve efficiency of movement and user experience. Reducing emissions through ULEZs doesn’t go far enough. We urgently need a broader strategy to address the continued surge in van traffic predicted, and to facilitate significant reallocation of street space to create better places to improve quality of life for everyone that lives, works and travels through our cities.”


Peter Hogg, UK Cities Director, said:

“We have to take a wide view when discussing air quality and question who these zones truly impact. There is a likelihood that by creating space in a city only available to new, electric vehicles, low earners unable to upgrade their cars to more expensive models are left behind, with no second-hand market. We must scale the issue – will smaller businesses be able to compete with larger organisations who can update their fleet? Some compensation is available, but will smaller businesses reliant on driving through city centres suffer, creating further frustrations in communities already feeling unhelpful divisions?

“No one can challenge the intention, but is the execution sufficiently carefully thought-through.”


Natalie Sauber, Market Intelligence Lead for Manufacturing & Technology, said:

“Seven million people die every year from air pollution. We must build a greener and more sustainable future by reducing emissions now. Inner city low-emission zones are needed, but we could be bolder and ban unnecessary car journeys altogether. The ULEZ in London should apply to all polluting vehicles; however, black cabs and construction vehicles seem to be excluded, despite being some of the biggest contributors to city pollution. From a technology angle, the cost of battery-powered vehicles is falling rapidly, making them increasingly accessible to customers. Electrifying our cities is the only way forward. The automotive industry, with its great track record in innovation, is reacting fast to the emissions targets set by European regulators – but will it be enough?”


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Kerri Moore

Corporate Communications +44 (0)207 812 2258 Ask me a question